The Sierra, Displaced
Ana María Ramírez April 30, 2019
| Photo taken during the Second Workshop on Strategies for Indigenous Leaders, 2017
I was walking intentionally slower than the group pace taking in the different topped mountains and all that cascaded from them.
So begins the testimony of Tiokasin, Lakota leader who we had the pleasure to meet in our workshop with indigenous leaders in 2017. The setting was the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, known as “the heart of earth” by the Kankuamo community, our hosts. These are the thoughts that came to Tiokasin while walking from Chemesquemena to Guatapurí, the last Kankuamo community in the Sierra.
I wanted to experience and feel the silence of their thoughts and comprehension to each other without the human chatter on the road ahead. The flowers, the bushes, the trees, insects, birds the clouds and how the sun shown at different colored angles and of course the road. The ‘intentional’ walk reminded me of home where Lakota elders never hurried their tongues nor their contemplations regarding most important relationships with all the consciousness surrounding everyday life including the human being.
The Sierra is a place of great significance, and the indigenous communities that live there have an intimate and ancestral connection to and understanding of this land upon which they have always lived. However, this region was, for a time, under the control of paramilitary groups, and the land was stripped of its traditional importance and uses. During the conflict, the sacred territory of the Sierra became a military and geostrategic asset, and the collective narrative of the region’s indigenous communities was displaced and very nearly destroyed. The paramilitaries’ hold and destructive intent in the area caused significant displacement, as well as the appropriation and dispossession of traditional materials and cultures—though it is important to note that the violence of the armed conflict in the Sierra is part of an even longer history of violence, one that crosses national boundaries and weighs heavily upon other communities. This is clear in the ways that the walk and the territory profoundly impacted Tiokasin.
It was then I stopped and looked behind me and a grey-haired old man walked without sound. His steady gait humbled me when I saw his gaze as if he already expected me… already knew the thoughts I was thinking. I stood there as he passed by and I saw my grandfather, I saw my uncle, and almost could see myself… maybe someday. A confirmation of what my experience as a westernized Native was missing and yet a reminder of what possibilities exist unconsciously due to the distractions of civilization.
The narrative of the communities of the Sierra and the actions of the armed actors demonstrate the different relationships with space that people inhabiting them can build. A place is flexible in this way: its function and importance change according to the relationship of the person occupying it. During this implementation period of transitional justice mechanisms, thinking particularly of the Truth Commision, I wonder how we can make sure to include different narratives and understandings of the conflict. How can we incorporate effects that are not necessarily individual—the attacks against the land, and thus also against the relationships of people to the land—as we reconstruct the acts of violence and the voices of those affected by the conflict?
I heard the group calling my name and saw them waiting for me aside the road before a huge flat rounded boulder. I learned from the community the history of a decade, a few decades before regarding a war and where soldiers had their headquarters and strategic guard points along the mountain sides. They described how the roads were blocked and the massacre of their people at that very site of the boulder, and how it was not where people walked anymore because of their respect for the those who were killed there.
The relationship to a territory, especially one as powerful as “the heart of the earth,” creates a collective narrative that deserves to be told, above all because it was severely mistreated and abused during the conflict. I would think it is also logical that those of us who are not indigenous should not be the ones to tell what happened, to tell of attacks on people and land. The Commission must allow communities to tell how these narratives were displaced, and of the attempts at rewriting and appropriating these places. Such aggression against the land implies an attempt to destroy and resignify space, and by extension, the people who live there.
I thought about their story, the people and the situations they must have faced. I honored that by feeling the strength of the land and that the stone had witnessed the same. Yet, as I stood overlooking the valley and the distance mountains with clouds climbing and rising every changing moment. The Sierra Nevadas are beautiful even with the tragedy… it made them more beautiful. And, the stone elder we were standing on spoke a longer story of birth and continuum.
The Commission presents an opportunity to acknowledge the ways that the conflict operated and how it affected the narratives and relationships between indigenous communities and their territory in the midst of attacks on tradition and on lands that have been theirs for generations. The act of reconstructing the truth will need to pluralize the voices that tell the conflict and privilege subjectivity—and acknowledge its own limitations in understanding narratives and relationships that go beyond the Commission, such as the relationship between the indigenous communities of the Sierra and their territory. These voices coexist outside and in relation to the dominant voice, which has historically been one of imposition and colonization. I wonder if, by way of the Commission, we might be able to see the conflict from a plural perspective, hand-in-hand with the commissioners Patricia Tobón and Ángela Salazar.
I saw the universe, the cosmos of constellations, stars and the whole movement naturally etched in the stone and felt the life the sun was communicating to all the valley within and said, “This is the universe, the cosmos, the cosmology of the earth, the people here, the life all that we can comprehend is in this elder stone we stand on.”